The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we work, forcing many companies to embrace remote work arrangements. While remote work has been a welcome change for many employees, it is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges remote workers face is the isolation that comes with being physically separated from their colleagues. Without the usual social interactions and face-to-face connections, remote workers can feel disconnected and disengaged from their teams and organizations. It’s important to note that remote work was already becoming increasingly popular even before the pandemic as it offers a range of benefits, including reduced commuting time, more flexible schedules, and access to a wider range of job opportunities.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some strategies that can help remote employees foster relationships with their colleagues, and bridge the gap between physical distance and shared purpose.
Effective Strategies for Virtual Bonding
Start with a Virtual Icebreaker
Starting every team meeting or new employee interaction with an icebreaker is an excellent way to ease tension, make everyone feel comfortable, and start off on a positive note. Virtual icebreakers can be just as effective. They can be simple questions or more complex activities, but the end goal is the same: bring your team closer together.
Virtual icebreakers are a great way to create a more relaxed and informal atmosphere while bringing people together. Before starting the icebreaker, provide some guidelines on how the team members can participate, and also ensure everyone gets a chance to share something about themselves.
Here are some examples of virtual icebreakers:
- Introductions: A simple round of introductions where team members can share their name, job title, and a few fun facts about themselves. This can be a great way to learn more about your team members’ hobbies, interests, and personal lives.
- Two Truths and a Lie: In this game, each team member shares three statements about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is false. The rest of the team must guess which statement is false. This game is a great way to encourage team members to get creative and come up with interesting facts about themselves.
- Virtual Escape Rooms: Escape rooms are fun and challenging team activities that can be done virtually. Everyone must work together to solve puzzles and escape before time runs out. Virtual escape rooms are a great way to encourage collaboration and teamwork while having fun.
- “Show and Tell”: In this activity, each team member chooses an item from their workspace and shares a story about it. This game is a great way to get to know your colleagues on a personal level and learn more about their interests and personality.
Schedule Regular Check-Ins
Regular check-ins are necessary to build and maintain relationships in the workplace, whether virtual or not. For remote teams, scheduling regular check-ins ensures everyone stays connected and engaged. These check-ins can be weekly team catch-ups, monthly one-on-one conversations, or even informal chats. They can be done over the phone, via video conferencing, or instant messaging.
The key is to be consistent with these check-ins, so everyone knows when to expect them. Consistency shows that you value the relationship and that the check-in is a priority. Come into check-ins with a positive attitude, listen attentively, and actively engage in the conversation; this shows that you are interested in your colleague’s well-being and makes the conversation more meaningful.
Make sure to use this time to share not only work-related updates but also to discuss personal interests, ideas, or anything they may want to share. Remember, the goal is to build strong relationships that go beyond just work-related matters, which can improve team cohesion and collaboration.
Use Video Conferencing
Video conferencing is one of the best tools for remote teams to build bonds. It provides a platform for teams to have face-to-face interactions despite not being physically present in the same location. Video conferencing eliminates the feelings of isolation that remote workers may encounter and creates a more human connection which is essential for remote teams.
Incorporating video conferencing throughout your workweek helps build and maintain the relationship between colleagues. Video conferences can be used for business meetings, virtual happy hours, trivia nights, and more. It’s important to note that video conferencing can be tiring, so it’s essential to take regular breaks and limit the number of video calls scheduled each day.
Here are some tips for effective video conferencing:
- Use a reliable tool: Ensure that you’re using a reliable video conferencing tool that provides crystal clear sound and images.
- Encourage participation: Encourage team members to participate and contribute to the conversation. If someone is engaged, it gives an opportunity for others to learn from them.
- Set an agenda: Setting an agenda for the meeting helps everyone prepare beforehand, which makes the meeting more productive and achieve predetermined goals.
- Make use of the chat: Video conferencing tools often have chat functions, they can be useful for sharing links, comments and answering questions.
Create a Virtual Water Cooler
A virtual water cooler is a space that allows your team to connect and socialize in a casual setting. This space can be a Slack channel, a private Facebook group, or a company intranet where colleagues can interact on topics unrelated to work. You can share memes, funny stories, holiday plans or favorite childhood memories, and it creates a sense of community online that mirrors the after-work drinks or lunch chats of an in-person workplace.
Virtual water coolers are great for remote teams because they allow team members to connect without having to schedule formal meetings. These casual connections facilitate the development of strong social bonds between colleagues, which makes working in a remote team a more fulfilling experience.
Here are some tips on making the virtual water cooler effective:
- Create engagement: Encourage team members to engage in conversations and post their thoughts, opinions, jokes, and other material on the virtual platform.
- Create a purpose: Have a specific chat topic or interest group. This helps create some structure and ensures the conversation stays engaging.
- Set guidelines: Set ground rules for what’s not appropriate to discuss, and how to handle any disagreements or uncomfortable situations.
Celebrating workplace milestones like birthdays, work anniversaries, and big project achievements shows that you value your colleagues’ accomplishments. In an in-person workplace, it is often easy to celebrate these milestones because everyone is in the same location. In a remote team, it requires some planning, but it is essential to build relationships.
Consider sending virtual gifts or arranging a card from the whole team to be sent as an acknowledgement of team members’ milestones. Organize a virtual party, whereby everyone gets dressed up, participates in a fun activity, and enjoys refreshments as if they were meeting in-person. You can also arrange a virtual group video call, where everyone shares a story or memory that highlights the achievements made. This celebration of milestones is a reminder that everyone is working towards a common goal and recognizes everyone’s efforts.
Engage in Cross-Team Collaboration
Cross-team collaboration involves working with people across departments or specialties to achieve a shared goal. For remote teams, cross-team collaboration helps team members interact and form bonds with colleagues outside their team. Collaboration helps team members gain perspective, respect, and understating of others’ roles and builds mutual appreciation.
Cross-team collaboration can take the form of inter-team feedback sessions, where members of different teams share ideas and feedback with one another, or collaborative projects, where teams from different departments come together to achieve a common goal. You can also have virtual team-building events and games with participants from different teams.
Use Social Media to Build Relationships
Social media is a powerful tool for remote teams to connect and bond. It enables team members to interact outside of work in a more casual and fun environment. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter provide forums where team members can connect, share interests and ideas, and build relationships.
LinkedIn is a professional platform where team members can showcase their skills, knowledge, and achievements. Encourage team members to post updates on major projects or industry news on their LinkedIn profiles. Comment and share your colleagues’ posts to keep your presence known.
Facebook and Twitter are more casual platforms where team members can share personal interests, such as hobbies or sports teams, and interact with each other. Share funny or motivational posts, memes, or other miscellaneous material that promotes connection and bonding.
Use Art and Music to Create Connections
Art and music can be a powerful tool for creating connections between remote teams. Engaging in artistic or musical activities can foster creative thinking, collaboration, and critical thinking between team members. Encourage your team members to participate in a virtual art class or virtual karaoke party. These virtual sessions provide a platform for team members to interact, share their skills and knowledge, and have fun.
Remote work can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. By prioritizing connections with virtual icebreakers, regular check-ins, video conferencing, virtual water coolers, celebrating milestones, cross-team collaboration, social media, and artistic and musical activities, remote teams can create a strong sense of community, shared purpose, and job satisfaction.
By creating a workplace culture that is inclusive, positive, and supportive of remote teams, companies can harness the full potential of a distributed workforce. Remote teams can unlock new levels of creativity, innovation, and collaboration that are impossible in a traditional in-person workplace. Companies that invest in building the relationships between virtual team members will be rewarded with increased engagement, productivity, and business results.
In a rapidly changing world, remote work is here to stay, and its adoption will only accelerate. Remote work offers many benefits and changes the traditional concept of a workplace. Therefore, it’s important that organizations recognize the unique challenges and opportunities that virtual bonding and remote work can bring. By using the strategies outlined in this post, remote workers can feel more connected to their colleagues, empowered, and motivated, to achieve shared goals.